Two 12-year-olds accused of stabbing a friend to please an internet legend known as Slender Man have raised concerns over the dangers of the Internet culture and its strange, but often powerful, influence on youth.
The two Wisconsin girls are being held in jail with charges of first-degree attempted homicide, after they reportedly stabbed their friend 19 times during a game of hide and seek. The pair have been charged as adults, and could face up to 60 years in prison, if convicted.
Police said the 12-year-olds decided on stabbing their friend as a way to please Slender Man, a fictitious demon-like creature popular on the internet. The legend was created on the Something Awful forum several years ago and today has become a meme.
The site creepypasta.wikia.com describes the mythical creature as:
“Slender Man generally appears (in modern times) as a tall man in a black or grey suit, red or black tie, and white shirt, with no eyes, mouth, or clearly defined facial features. It has no hair, and generally has normal-looking bare hands. Slenderman typically is depicted in imagery and literature as between 6 and 15 feet tall, depending on the situation, and in video as around 6-7 feet tall.”
Police said the 12-year-olds believed stabbing their friend to death would allow them to become “proxies” of Slender Man and then join him in his forest mansion. One of the girls even claimed that Slender Man came to her in her dreams and could read her mind.
The attempted murder has raised concern for many experts, who believe that Internet culture may be growing dangerous among younger users not sophisticated enough to determine fact from fiction.
“Unmonitored and unrestricted access to the Internet by children is a growing and alarming problem,” said Russell Jack, the Waukesha police chief, during a Monday news conference. “This should be a wake-up call for parents. Parents are strongly encouraged to restrict and monitor their children’s Internet usage.”
Sherry Turkle, a psychologist specializing in the internet, said the medium has blurred the lines for the kind of children’s myths that have existed for centuries.
“This is a tragic story about our vulnerability to a medium where the lines between what’s real and what’s a game are blurred,” Turkle said, adding. “We’re not providing the guidance for these two 12-year-olds to sort out [fact from fiction] when a website tells them to kill someone.”
But others think the 12-year-olds stabbing their friend over Slender Man doesn’t add up, and that children that age wouldn’t believe in a mythical creature. These critics instead believe the internet legend was a convenient way to excuse the behavior and hide the blame.